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How you dispel relief

The sun was high in the sky last Friday, though clearly further south along the Earth’s tilt than it was a month ago.

The sun was high in the sky last Friday, though clearly further south along the Earth’s tilt than it was a month ago. Cool air blowing down off the glaciers gave an underlying edge to the warm summer air, a reminder of how quickly shorts and a T-shirt could become inappropriate statements of optimism. Dark gray clouds crept low along the western horizon, threatening to make good on the weatherman’s fencesitting forecast of "sunny with clouds, maybe rain, maybe not, don’t blame me."

The final cup of morning’s coffee was rapidly becoming an issue, asserting itself as persistently as Zippy the Dog had an hour earlier when he too wanted out and wanted out right now. In Zippy’s case it was easy to harness him up to the bike and let him pull me into the village, or was it the other way around. In the case of coffee that had overstayed its welcome, the issue wasn’t as simple, at least not now that I was in the village and couldn’t take advantage of the nearest bush.

Approaching the conference centre from the parking lot side, the enormity of my error – getting out of bed possibly but certainly coming to the village – coupled with the urgency of my need, struck like opposing stormfronts. Between me and the nearest of Whistler’s few public washrooms was a sea of riot police. Helmeted, batoned, firearmed, body armoured and restless they milled around like well-dressed street thugs waiting for something to do. I was going to be the next something.

Crowd control barriers funneled me toward the first clutch of peace officers. "Where are you going?" one asked.

"The public washroom. Gotta go."

"You’ll have to go around. You can’t pass through here." There was no room for negotiation in the tone of her voice. It was matter of fact. A public walkway some 60 feet wide, between the patio of Tapley’s and the conference centre, was just too close to wherever the white boys of PNWER were hatching their plans for Pacific Northwest world domination. Maybe she thought Zippy the Dog was a suicide bomber disguised as a Lab. Surely I fit the profile of an anarchist shitdisturber dressed in shorts and a golf shirt.

"What do you mean, around?" I asked, since the word was subject to several different directions, all of which took me further away from the immediate relief I sought.

"Back up immediately!" she said. "Go back to the bus stop and through the breezeway." I wondered momentarily what she was like off duty. A dominatrix in stilettos and rubber, whip in each hand, cattle prod on a nearby table? A deranged den mother to a pack of right-wing skinhead scouts? A WWF wrestler?

"You’re overreacting, you know?" I said. "I’m a peaceful guy; Zip’s a peaceful dog and all I want to do is take a leak."

"Back up immediately, Sir. You can’t pass this way and those toilets are off limits anyway."

"Things like this make the police very unattractive, you know."

I left. My plan was to skirt around to the entrance of Tapley’s patio and slide through. Two steroidal cops blocked my way. I was betting Donnie was amused by this warm reception at his back door at lunch time.

"This is BS," I said to Zippy or maybe he said to me as we flouted the No Dogs sign and slipped though the hallway between the grocery and liquor store.

Outside the protesters had gathered into a tight, scary group. Now I understood the reason for all the cops. Eight of them squatted and sat in the centre of the square painting protest signs. Two more played guitars and looked bored. The scene was more reminiscent of art time at the day care than a threat to the free world. "Fuck Everything," one sign read, sort of an all-purpose protest message. More targeted villains included Starbucks, the coffee you love to hate, Nike, Delta Hotels, any and all multinational corporations, free trade, water sales, exploitation of the poor, pharmaceutical companies. It was the Wal-Mart of protests, everything in one location.

I slunk back around to the other side of the conference centre. More crowd control barriers, more pneumatic cops, arms folded across their chests like bouncers just hoping someone will try to crash the club, and more barriers and "Closed" signs at the entrance to the rest rooms. I tied up the dog and sought relief in Tapley’s. People who should have been on the patio were inside, maybe intimidated by the show of force or simply uncertain what they might do to get themselves in trouble if they were within peanut throwing distance.

Back outside, one of the executive of AWARE strolled by. He’d been cop-baiting with no great success and we spent several minutes staring at the stone-faced phalanx and making faces the way people at the zoo might make faces to see if they can get a rise out of the chimps.

He was pissed off because the Muni had turned down a request to let AWARE set up an information booth on the square to push their environmental message to the masses expected to gather to either protest, watch the protest, or pepper spray the bejesus out of anybody who moved. "Democracy is good in theory," one or the other of us said, or maybe it was Zippy the Dog, "but only when it doesn’t threaten to get ugly." Given the total distaste for honest confrontation at Muni Hall, what other outcome could he have expected?

It was starting to rain and I was getting bored so we walked up toward the base of Whistler, out on to the road and past the driving range. Zippy likes to bark at the balls being hit.

In the parking lot of the Crab Shack I quit thinking the police presence at the conference centre was just some kind of overblown joke. I’d stumbled into their nest. Reinforcements lounged in and outside of a bus, taking coffee and donuts from a catering truck. Maybe 50 riotgeared RCMP sat, stood and milled around. Some held coffee, some held nightsticks, some fiddled with other, more sinister looking gear. All of them watched us pass by. It reminded me of a western movie. They were the bored cowhands hanging out in front of the saloon, looking for some excitement. I was the stranger, maybe a threat, maybe not but definitely worth kicking the living shit out of.

Zippy the Dog tucked his tail between his legs, put his head down and pulled at his leash until we got past them. Then he peed on the nearest bush in relief. Smart dog, Zippy.